UN finds racism against Indigenous Australians deeply disturbing

UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz says Australia needs a more comprehensive human rights framework to protect the rights of Indigenous people.


In her role, Ms Tauli-Corpuz reports and advises on the human rights situation of indigenous people around the world.

At the invitation of the Australian government, Ms Tauli-Corpuz has spent the past two weeks investigating Indigenous disadvantage across Australia.

She looked at policies for reducing Indigenous disadvantage, as well as justice and detention conditions, domestic violence, land rights and the removal of children from their families.


Ms Tauli-Corpuz says the government needs to look at different ways of achieving Closing the Gap targets.

“They have not been looking seriously into the social and cultural determinants to explain why many of these targets are not achieved.”

The special rapporteur has also criticised the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in youth justice detention.

She says she found meeting young children, some only 12 years old, in detention the most disturbing element of her visit.

“There’s really an element of hopelessness, you know. They don’t think that they have any future, because many of them are going to be arrested again. Those children don’t deserve to be in the detention centres. I think that more resources should be provided.”

Her comments come as the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory prepares to deliver its findings.

An interim report outlines a grim picture for young, incarcerated people of the Territory, claiming detainees are leaving youth detention in worse condition than when they arrived.

The royal commission was announced after video of a hooded and shackled teenager made national and international headlines last year.

Almost nine months later, the teenager at the centre of it all, Dylan Voller, is now part of a youth-rehabilitation program in Alice Springs.

He has told NITV there needs to be more accountability.

“And I just really don’t think it’s fair. I feel let down by the system that these people got off on it. And, for example, I’ve got a three-month-imprisonment sentence just for peeling a bit of paint off the wall because I was left in a cell for three days and I got bored. So I don’t see how there is fairness in the court system. And I think that’s why a lot of young people these days, when they do get assaulted, are too scared to press charges on people. One, because they feel nothing is going to happen anyway, and, two, because once the guards find out that you’re trying to charge them, you just get worse treatment.”

Northern Territory chief minister Mike Gunner spoke to the media late last week after the release of the interim report.

“Their opening comments go to ‘a broken youth system, youth-justice system, helps nobody.’ A broken youth-justice system fails Territorians. It fails the kids in our care, and it fails Territorians, who deserve a safe community.”

The UN special rapporteur describes the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth as alarming and calls for more Indigenous-led solutions.

Around half of the children in detention in Australia are Indigenous, even though Indigenous Australians account for less than 3 per cent of Australia’s national population.

Mr Voller says incarceration traumatised him but rehabilitation programs such as the Bush Mob program, working with Indigenous mentors, has been a positive experience.

“I think the funding should be going more to youth activities and programs to stop them from having to need the police, and more youth-crime task force and stuff like that, because, if they get the programs and stuff to help them, then the youth crime won’t be going on. Like drop-in centres and stuff like that. Most people that do stealing cars and stuff, it’s because they’re on the street walking around, but, if they had a drop-in centre or somewhere like that, a 24-hour service where someone could just walk in, drop in, and hopefully get a lift home or get a feed, something like that, then they wouldn’t be doing the crimes that they’ve been doing.”

Following her 15-day tour, Ms Tauli-Corpuz will draft a report with recommendations and present it before the Human Rights Council in the United Nations in September.

The royal commission is due to hand down its final report and its findings, as well as recommendations, on August 1.